Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in "It." (Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in “It.” (Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

“It”: 4 stars out of five. In theaters.

Evil exists. It lives in the rage of bullies, the inaction of adults and in a clown’s blank expression.

“It” is a nightmare come to life. The disturbing and gripping film based on Stephen King’s best-selling horror novel blends a tale of terror with a coming-of-age story. A group of kids take on a shape-shifting demon whose evil has permeated their small town.

The biggest strength of “It” is its phenomenal cast of child actors, who form the Losers Club of misfits. The group of seven must deal with heavy subjects such as mourning, bullying, illness and victimization while being hunted by a malevolent force who feeds on their fears.

The standouts are Sophia Lillis as the brave and long-suffering Beverly, Jaeden Lieberher as the determined Billy, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as the sensitive Ben.

Unsettling camera angles, creepy imagery and justified jump scares ramp up the tension as the sinister clown Pennywise torments the town’s children. A menacing Bill Skarsgard taps into the otherness of Pennywise, a supernatural predator who relishes hunting his prey.

Each scare effectively builds up to the next, creating a palpable sense of dread throughout the film. A frightening scene involving a projector remains burned onto my consciousness.

“It” is not without its flaws. While some of the children are fleshed out, others are little more than bystanders. The film also shows too much of its monster right off the bat, generously revealing Pennywise’s true nature instead of doling it out throughout the film.

But the haunting quality of “It” is the realization that the real monsters are the adults. Parents are absent and neglectful, willfully turning a blind eye. Their inaction feeds Pennywise, perhaps even more than his chosen prey. That’s the true horror of “It.”

“It” is a new horror classic, certain to haunt your dreams long after the credits roll.